At an event at the prestigious Georgetown University in Washington, United States, Nobel Literature Laureate Prof. Wole Soyinka paid a poignant tribute to heroine Christian schoolgirl Leah Sharibu in an ode to Leah and Chibok last week.
Likening Leah to iconic human rights champion, late Nelson Mandela of South Africa, Soyinka said we must “celebrate the exception who said ‘no’ ”, as it reminded him of Mandela who refused conditional release from prison.
Reciting the ode titled: “Mandela comes to Leah”, Soyinka said, “No”, she said, “faith is not of compulsion … her torch undimmed in the den of zealots.”
Prof. Soyinka said he could only recite excerpts from the ode because he broke down the last time he had tried to read it.
He also did an epic takedown of a Georgetown professor’s claim that poverty and desperation were behind Boko Haram terrorism.
He said that it was ideological bordering on the metaphysical and we should not underestimate it. “We’re dealing with something much deeper,” he said; and recalled the son of a former Chief Justice of Nigeria who was upper middle class but who disappeared with his family to join ISIS abroad.
“There’s a will to deny the possibility of horror and evil. We have reached a point where we have to go beyond the material analysis of this phenomenon. It goes beyond poverty and marginalisation. The ideology of sheer morbidity.”
Soyinka deplored the 20 American intellectuals who wrote, protesting against the proposal to designate Boko Haram as a Foreign Terrorist Organization actually saying it would interfere with their “scholarly research,” adding, “took my breath away.”
“Some were my friends (but) there they were in all seriousness simply because they had a very wrong analytical approach to this problem.”
“We must simply jettison the language of political correctness. Political correctness is turning African continent into the graveyard of freedom and liberty if we don’t call things by their proper names…”
“We’re dealing now with the toxin of power which barely manifests itself under the cloak of religion.”
Also on the panel with Soyinka was the ambassador who belatedly announced Obama’s decision to designate Boko Haram as an FTO as then top US diplomat for Africa Assistant Secretary of State, Linda Thomas Greenfield.
Greenfield pleaded impotency in responding to the Chibok abductions due to denials by many as to what happened which she said was her biggest challenge.
“I had this feeling of impotency – a superpower who couldn’t do anything…I still feel it…there’s no more frustration to be in and I felt frustrated.”
She also mentioned a recent attack in Nigeria where girls were taken the previous week.
Ambassador Greenfield paid tribute to some of the girls whom she had met as being strong, saying she was also traumatised just watching the drama “Chibok: Our Story”, which preceded the panel discussion.
International human rights lawyer Emmanuel Ogebe, who led the successful advocacy effort to designate Boko Haram as a Foreign Terrorist Organisation, thanked the cast and producer/playwright of “Chibok: Our Story”, Wole Oguntokun for giving voice to the Chibok situation despite efforts of the government to silence the advocacy.
He mentioned the sad news that Leah’s 16th birthday is coming up in captivity on May 14, and the good news that one of the escaped Chibok girls he brought to school in the US was graduating with an associate degree in science the same week.
While stating that he forgave Ambassador Greenfield for the Obama administration’s delay in designating Boko Haram as a Foreign Terrorist Organisation because she delivered the good news, Ogebe noted that the Chibok girl graduated from college without one dime of US government support in the past five years.
“We can’t bring back the girls, but we can all do something,” he added.
Ogebe and Ambassador Greenfield had testified together before the US Congress on the day the FTO designation was announced – she represented the Obama administration while Ogebe and a Boko Haram victim represented civil society.
The panel event was part of the Currents Festival at Georgetown University where the Chibok play, which has performed in Nigeria and Rwanda made its US debut to rave reviews.
Wole Oguntokun, an acclaimed producer/playwright, is a protégé of Soyinka.